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The powerful dogmatists

When you wait for the Messiah, both nuclear war and global warming can be good signs.


[nuclear weapons] Of all the threats to our chaotic world, nuclear weapons rank at the top. Combine them with anti-Semitism, and you have a combination that can make any upright person shudder.

No wonder one of the world's mildest human rights defenders, Elie Wiesel, doesn't put his fingers in describing Iran's president. Recently, he called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "pathologically ill".

Wish it was that simple. The problem is that the Iranian leader is completely rational, from a religious fanatic's point of view.

As a zealous Shi'ite, Ahmadinejad waits with longing for the return of a so-called "hidden imam". It is a spiritual leader who, according to the Shi'ite tradition, mysteriously hid hundreds of years ago. Orthodox Shiites believe that the return of the Imam will usher in an era of worldwide peace and security. When their messiah returns, all injustice will disappear. Including US power.

This is not unlike how millions of evangelical Christians in the United States feel about the Messiah's return. They want Christ to come as soon as possible. That is why so many of them are opposed to environmental protection, or underestimate the importance of environmental protection. They are convinced that protecting the earth's resources will only delay Armageddon. From such a point of view, global warming is God's will.

The head of the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Land, put it a little more politely on CNN. About climate change, he said: "There is no consensus among evangelicals about their occurrence, the severity or the causes." Land is the leader of more than 16 million Christians in the United States.

I do not claim that all Shia or evangelical Christians march in droves. On the contrary, polls show that 70 percent of all U.S. evangelicals believe global warming will soon be a problem, while 63 percent say something needs to be done immediately. There has also emerged a group called the Evangelical Environmental Network that will challenge the complacency, passivity and denials of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I choose to view this as good news because it means the masses are ahead of their leaders. But what then? The fact is that these leaders have armed themselves with apocalyptic logic, and they are not particularly concerned about whether the masses agree with them or not.

Which brings me back to the Iranian president. He claims to have a "private, personal channel" to the "hidden imam". It is very likely that Ahmadinejad is promoting nuclear war precisely to speed up the imam's return. As he told supporters: "We must prepare to rule the world, and the only way to do that is to promote views based on the Expectation of the Return." That is, the return of the Messiah.

Sick? Yes. And for the multitude of believers, it is totally logical.

Before declaring that humanity's greatest problem is religion, we must remember one last thing. Modern-day terrorism was introduced by French revolutionaries. They rejected the monarchy, turned their backs on the Catholic Church, and introduced a cruel form of secularism. So cruel that Robespierre formulated a frightening theocratic credo: "Virtue without fear is powerless, and fear without virtue is evil." Let's breathe in relief that Robespierre is not among us today. He would have proven that nuclear weapons and secularism go hand in hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, weapons of mass destruction have been found. They are the dogmatists, a minority with disproportionate power.

Therefore, for all rising people, the question must be: Do we risk imitating dogmatics if we show a passion for moderation? Or are they passionately moderate humanity's only hope?

I don't know the answer. But I'd love to hear yours. Write to me at

Irshad Manji is a guest speaker at Yale Univeristy and the author of the international bestseller What's Wrong with Islam? (Cappelen). This

the text is written exclusively for Ny Tid.

Translated by Anne Arneberg

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